August 4th: After two weeks of summer doldrums I was more than ready to climb back into the chasing saddle. Decent instability and shear values plus an SPC-issued Marginal Risk convinced me to head out in the hunt just after 1 p.m. After picking up my son we headed north up Rte 29 as a “string of pearls” (a line of discrete storms) went up to our west over Franklin and Bedford counties. The northernmost cell looked very nice on radar but it was already north of Rte 460 and steaming northeast toward the Amherst area, not good chase territory.
Thus when we reached Yellow Branch we turned east on Rte 24 heading for Rustburg. During a quick stop to peruse radar we decided to intercept the cell just south of the one we’d abandoned. This cell was splitting into two parts so we dove south on Rte 501 to catch the southern split. This photo is looking west from the Gladys area at the splitting storms:
Continuing southeast along rural roads we kept ahead of this storm. At a vantage point near the Virginia hamlet of Long Island where we sat and watched while live-streaming for the local TV station:
This cell showed weak rotation on radar that corresponded to the feature under the rain-free base, a wall cloud that vigorously vacuumed up scud while we watched.
When the rain/hail shaft neared we dropped a couple miles south to keep an eye on it while staying out of the precipitation. That leapfrogging process went on for a bit until we stopped and live-streamed for the 5 o’clock news broadcast. By the time the weather segment aired all we could show was heavy rain (fortunately no hail!) hitting the windshield. We wound up letting this storm continue eastward into less favorable chasing terrain and pushed west to check out another updraft. That one, unfortunately, quickly faded so we were done for the day.
August 6th: I wasn’t going to chase this day until I made the mistake of peeking at radar after 6 pm. When I did I noticed two discrete storms northwest of Christiansburg heading east-southeast. Both of them exhibited classic supercell radar signatures with a “flying eagle” look and what appeared to be hook echoes. After a couple more radar scans I jumped in the chasemobile & motored south on Rte 220 to the Wirtz area to set up and wait for them to cross the Blue Ridge.
Unfortunately by the time these storms did cross the mountains they had coalesced into a weak convective line that looked like grey mush with no discernible features. I repositioned a bit further east to see if anything more would develop but it didn’t. Later I determined that the original two cells had intensified along a warm front draped across the Appalachians southwest of the Roanoke valley. The front’s readily available shear zone spun them up into supercells, but when they moved off the front they weakened and merged with other weak updrafts.
August 11th: Early initiation predicted by short term models plus a Marginal Risk issued by the SPC convinced me to leave home at 11 a.m. and roll south to Martinsville, where I ate lunch. From there I moved east and south to watch one cell that split. I followed the right hand split to the area of Cascades where it appeared to be slowly intensifying as a “Tail End Charlie” cell on line segment. After a detour caused by a closed road I wound up just south of the state line watching this storm come toward me.
About that time I saw a notification of a severe thunderstorm warning for Roanoke so I widened the radar view out. This storm had several robust neighbors that convinced me to core punch the storm coming at me and head north to check out this new activity. I jumped onto Rte 58 and sped around to catch Rte 29 north at Danville. Pushing north at highway speeds I finally turned east at Gretna on Rte 40 to gain position on a now developing squall line.
Running east I slowed enough at Cody to catch a glimpse of this lowering to the north:
I diverted southeast on the Cody Road to keep ahead of the line but didn’t have time to stop very long as the complex was accelerating. I dove southwest and then south, finally winding up on Rte 57 where I decided to punch through a weak spot in the line and head west. After heavy rain, strong outflow winds, and some quarter- to half-inch hail rattling on the hood I arrived on the other side just as the entire line went severe warned. Other than a brief stop to take a photo of some mammatus I called it a chase and headed for the barn.
August 24th: This was a long shot chase but it was a desperation ploy since the chase season looked to be rapidly unwinding. I started with a rolling reconnaissance to Bedford to check out the setup east of the Blue Ridge. The nearest storm I could see north of Rte 460 was up near Charlottesville but I noticed some updrafts to the south. Thus I dropped south along Rte 29, eventually stopping near Chatham to watch some oncoming activity. This cell northwest of Danville was the most picturesque thing I saw all day:
No lightning nor thunder meant this was a bust but it was an enjoyable interlude.
September 4th: A backdoor cold front fired up some storms so I bit on the setup. Despite being inside three separate severe thunderstorm polygons I didn’t see anything worth the time and miles I drove. With convection starting earlier than I expected I couldn’t make it to Lynchburg in time so I went south toward Rocky Mount on Rte 220 with plans to turn east on Rte 40. Unfortunately that route was blocked by more storms so I continued south and east to and thru both Martinsville and Danville.
Finally stopping east of Danville on Rte 58 I dropped south to Milton NC and found a place to watch one storm. Visibility was hazy at best and my vantage point wasn’t very open so I didn’t see much. Pulling off that storm I moved back north to Rte 58 and drifted east to South Boston without seeing anything. So I drove back west to Danville and then north on Rte 29 to almost Lynchburg before calling it a chase. Other than a few impressive CG strikes it was an unproductive day.
September 9th: Clear air (no haze) and plenty of CAPE convinced me to chase this day although shear and storm speeds were pretty lame. My expectations weren’t very high but I had some hopes of actually seeing a storm. After some morning convection fired I headed toward Rocky Mount before 1 pm to check things out. My route down 220 happened to neatly punch through a weak spot in a developing convective line and allowed me to get ahead of the action.
I stopped in Glade Hill and live-streamed for 30 minutes or so before retreating east first to Union Hall and then to Penhook where I rolled south into rural Pittsylvania county. I found a neat hilltop location from which I had a clear view of this cell east of me over Gretna:
This was the pinnacle of my chasing success that afternoon…but a pretty day and a low key chase combined to make it enjoyable.
September 12th: Typically by this time in the season tropical remnants are necessary for decent chasing. That wasn’t the case this day, however, as a cold front, a surface low pressure, decent CAPE, and plenty of shear combined to provide sufficient hope to get me going. I arrived at my initial location near Blairs around 11 a.m. since the cold front was forecast to push across Virginia early.
As it turned out I had time to grab lunch before some robust updrafts in North Carolina moved into Virginia east of Danville. I intercepted the “Tail End Charlie” cell but it soon faded both on radar and visually. Meanwhile another batch of convection went up to the west near Martinsville so I had to choose which activity to go after. I chose the new storms and used the highway speeds afforded by Rte 58 to get back west to Danville and then turn north on Rte 29. Just east of Blairs I witnessed this wall cloud minutes before it morphed into a linear shelf cloud as the parent storm gusted outward:
I stayed ahead of this storm on rural roads, winding my way into southern Halifax county where I stopped to watch. The cell pulsed back upward and I took several photos of a lowering that I first dismissed as scud:
A later review of photos, video clips, and radar grabs convinced me that this had been a true rotating wall cloud with a brief visible funnel.
This cell continued eastward but more action fired south near the state line along the cold front itself. I scooted in that direction and wound up in Turbeville on Rte 58 with a developing squall line overhead. After the line moved south of the highway I motored west toward home but just had to stop to photograph this sculpted storm along the front:
There is only one storm report in Virginia in the SPC database on this date and it was nowhere near this area. Still, I considered this a successful and enjoyable late season storm chase.
And that was it. The lack of a fall tropical season plus a mini-drought across Virginia combined to end the 2015 chase season before mid-September. All in all it was an enjoyable year of storm chasing despite the dearth of tornado watches and warnings in the NWS Blacksburg CWA. Then again, storm chasing for me is about more than just seeing tornados.